HR Hot Topics: October Edition


Welcome to October’s edition of HR hot topics!


October is the best time of year. After all, Halloween is my favorite holiday. And as much as I’d like to believe it’s a typical year, you and I both know that’s not true.


Covid is still here. But now, at this point in the year, the questions I’m getting asked are a little different. As this pandemic continues, the level of sophistication or nuance of common questions changes. For this month’s post, I want to update you on something I touched on last month, and also talk about whether or not you can inquire if a job seeker has been vaccinated.


First and foremost, the update. After last month’s episode, president Biden went on TV and gave a press conference. He said the federal government is going to mandate that employers of a certain size, accept certain funding, or have a certain classification, will now have a mandatory vaccination policy for all employees, or allow employees to submit to weekly testing. The president also indicated that OSHA will be the federal agency enforcing these rules. It was kind of a mic drop moment. That was it. That’s all we know. And that’s really all we still know.


OSHA doesn’t do anything quickly, and this particular mandate has yet to be sorted out. With that said, I don’t anticipate OSHA coming out with these draft rules anytime soon. If that changes, of course, I’ll update you. But for now, that’s where we’re at. We’re all just holding our breath, just like we were last month. No real change there.


As for the topic of this month’s post, I’ve been getting this question a lot lately, “Jodi, we don’t currently mandate vaccination in our workplace, but we have some open positions and we highly encourage vaccination. So, we’d really like for all of our new hires to be vaccinated. How do I talk about that? Can I talk about that?”


If you aren’t currently mandating vaccination, than your job postings shouldn’t say you mandate vaccination, and you shouldn’t be making hiring decisions based solely on vaccination status. It’s not a condition of employment because you haven’t made it a condition of employment. Even if it were, you still have to give exemptions or reasonable accommodations for folks who are unable to be vaccinated due to medical or sincerely held religious beliefs. It’s not as cut and dry as you might think. Even though you shouldn’t be making hiring decisions based solely on that, if it’s not a policy in your workplace, that doesn’t mean you can’t ask about it.


In a day and age where we’re struggling to find employees, we certainly don’t have extra staff to fill in when people are unexpectedly out due to exposure. Vaccination plays into that, so I understand why it’s a topic of interest. So, don’t put anything in a job posting per se, but as you get applicants coming in and decide someone is a viable candidate, I recommend having a conversation discussing whatever your policy is. If vaccination isn’t high on your list, then you don’t have to talk about it at all.


If you’re strongly recommending vaccination, then you should say that to the job seeker. You should clearly communicate your company’s policies and position, whether that is not currently mandating vaccination, or you have different protocols for un-vaccinated staff. Of course, you may want to mention there’s a caveat to all of this as your policy around vaccination may change.


The clients I’ve given this advice to have found that candidates self-select in or out right then and there. Candidates who aren’t vaccinated or feel strongly against getting vaccinated will either tell you that’s the reason or find another way to bow out.


Folks who aren’t interested in working for a company that’s going in the direction of mandatory vaccination will usually step back, especially since jobs are plentiful right now. There are other opportunities they could pursue. There’s not a real interest in people being dishonest with you at this stage in the game. For those who are already fully vaccinated or would be willing to get vaccinated, they’ll often share that with you at that moment too. Remember, if your policy is not to mandate yet, then you want to be careful about making hiring decisions based solely on vaccination status.


I hope this post is helpful! And if there are any new developments on the Biden front, I’ll make sure to put that in an update as soon as we get them, but I’m not holding my breath. Until next month, folks, have a safe, happy, and haunted Halloween!